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Miracles of Life: Shanghai to Shepperton: An Autobiography Hardcover – April 30, 2008

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


'A particular delight of this lyrical autobiography lies in spotting the landscapes and events that appear subtly reconfigured, in Ballard's fiction.' Observer 'Critics' Picks for 2008' 'The long--awaited memoirs of one of the most interesting British writers.' Sunday Times 'Picks for 2008' 'This book should make yet more converts to a cause that Ballard's devotees have been pleading for years: that here, bafflingly unacknowledged, has been one of the greatest and sharpest imaginations at work in literature.' Independent on Sunday 'Unobtrusively well--written!and fascinating.' Literary Review 'The origins of this extraordinary and wonderful writer are now set out in this pellucid, forgiving, tranquil autobiography...this is a remarkable autobiography, treating events which most of us can barely imagine with tranquil dignity and exactness...Ballard has carried out Matthew Arnold's imprecation to "see life steadily and see it whole". This is an unforgettable farewell.' The Spectator 'Brilliant and mesmerising...this wonderful, clear-sighted autobiography...has a wisdom and depth that makes you long to hug the author and say '"Thank you" and wish him well.' Daily Mail 'What this brief, modest and occasionally shattering book only glances at is the extraordinary body of work that has flowed from this remarkable life...fascinating..."Miracles of Life" also tells quite another story, unconscious and inadvertent, but finally brave in a way that elevates it to a level of greatness.' The Observer 'Exquisitely written..."Miracles of Life", a subtle, restlessly enquiring work of touching humanity, is Ballard's crowning achievement.' Financial Times 'A jewel...as a writer, he can simply take the breath away.' The Independent 'J.G. Ballard's memoir may be short but it is long on compassion, humour and insight...it is infused with a tremendous generosity of spirit.' Tatler 'His prose has clarity and concision. He is mordant and brutally direct...unexpected and funny...fascinating stuff...the overwhelming impression gained is of the man's great generosity.' GQ 'The greatest of living English writers!a superb memoir.' Mail on Sunday 'What a wonderful book. If there's a better memoir by a contemporary English writer, I don't know it.' Daily Telegraph 'Fascinating!amazingly lucid!a memoir that effortlessly combines emotional frankness with artistic insight.' The Guardian 'Essential reading for fans.' New Statesman

About the Author

J.G. Ballard was born in 1930 in Shanghai, where his father was a businessman. After internment in a civilian prison camp, he and his family returned to England in 1946. He published his first novel, The Drowned World, in 1961. His 1984 bestseller 'Empire of the Sun' won the Guardian Fiction Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was later filmed by Steven Spielberg. His most recent novel is 'Kingdom Come', published in 2006.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (April 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007270720
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007270729
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,712,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Quite simply, this was a joy to read.

Ballard tells of his childhood in Shanghai, internment there under the Japanese, his university years in England, right through to his writing career and the joys and tragedies he's experienced as a father and husband, and his love of family life.

What makes this book appealing is that it's not only well written and direct, but also that Ballard tells his story with an honesty and poignancy that is so rare in many autobiographies today.

This isn't about Ballard the writer, but about the circumstances and events that shaped and formed his personal values and beliefs.

You don't have to have read Ballard's fiction to enjoy this book either (although his Shanghai reminisces provide a fascinating insight into Empire of the Sun, the novel based on his internment experiences).

What stands out above all else is his enjoyment of childhood and subsequent selfless devotion and enjoyment of family through all the joys and tragedy he experienced.

His life affirming views on childhood, fatherhood, and single parenthood set this book apart from those hundreds of other autobiographies available that only tell of how individuals found (or lost) their fame or fortune.
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Format: Hardcover
J.G. Ballard's candid autobiography impresses through its hallucinatory evocation of the human (war, social, psychological) scenery, the unfolding of the deep sources and motivations of his authorship and the emotions in his life as a family man.

Human scenery
As a young boy in Shanghai, J. G. Ballard was unsettled by the deep social differences between the wealthy foreign bourgeoisie and the extreme poverty of the local population with `orphans left to starve in doorways'.
The picture became even grimmer when the Japanese invaded China and war atrocities (clubbing to death) became nearly an everyday street scene. `Starving families sat around the gates, the women wailing and holding up their skeletal children.'
On his return to England after the war, he was confronted with the English class system, `an instrument of political control'. For the higher classes `change was the enemy of everything they believed in.' Meanwhile, the living standard of the working class was dreadful: `how bleakly they lived, how poorly paid, educated, housed and fed ... a vast exploited workforce, not much better off than the industrial workers in Shanghai.'
Studying in Cambridge he saw that for the inmates `heterosexuality was a curious choice.'

His family life
At the beginning of the 20th century, `children were an appendage to parents, somewhere between the servants and an obedient Labrador' and `childhood was a gamble with disease and early death.' To the contrary, J.G. Ballard was a father and a mother for his children after the early death of his wife.

His medical studies in Cambridge (dissection) taught him `that though death was the end, the human imagination and the human spirit could triumph over our own dissolution.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
after viewing the film, EMPIRE OF THE SUN once again on DVD, i was sufficiently inspired to read the true life account of the novelist responsible. after just finishing MIRACLES OF LIFE, the first thoughts entering my mind are, heart-felt, sincere, and touching. the most engaging gripping sections of the autobiography were (for me) found at the beginning chapters...his carefree freckless youth spent growing up in pre-war Shanghai and subsequent civilian internment by the Japanese at Lunghua Camp. the descriptions through the haze of time, of the International Settlement, social life amongst the Brit and other foreign ex-pats, his formative years as a young growing curious teenager in a Japanese Civilian internment camp, and the ending of WW2 in occupied China, were perhaps the crux of his autobio...essentially an unique life experience that determined his future direction and mind set. of mild interest were the follow-up chapters of adjusting to a drab post-war Britain still under rationing (not only food...but optimistic hope)...but unfortunately his narrative of his adult years dissolves into a personal aesthetic exposition of literature cum cinema cum modern art, all tinged with the political upheavals of post-50's decades, and includes a rather pedestrian marriage with single parenthood after the death of his spouse. for those wishing a first hand account (albeit european eyes) glimpse into pre-war Shanghai...this is an invaluable resource. the concluding chapter of his return to childhood Shanghai (after four decades)...now a post-Maoist New Order metropolitian city....was much too short, not as dramatic as expected and proof that 'you can't ever go home again'.
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Format: Hardcover
Rarely do I read biographies. It's not that I don't have people whose life interest me, it's just that it always seems that there is something more interesting or more important to read. Literature is full of wonders and I find immense joy in discovering bits of this and bits of that. At some point I discovered "Miracles of life" by J. G. Ballard.

I've read Ballard's work before. Mainly his SF novels and occasional essay or two and his writing always fascinated me. I'm a great admirer of new-wave science fiction of the 60's and Ballard's work stands as a perfect example of this movement. It is fresh and radical, more fearsome of technology than fascinated by it, but still it holds some longing for the future and its possibilities. Ballard and his generation were avant-garde - not just for the science fiction but for the entire literature of the 2nd half of 20th century. All of this promised me a fascinating read and I wasn't disappointed.

Ballard started work on this biography after he was diagnosed prostate cancer. He was 78 then and he lived quite an eventful life. First part of the book deals with his growing up in Shanghai and his life in prison camp during World War II (International Settlement in Shanghai where Ballard live with his parent was occupied by Japanese after an attack on Pearl Harbor) - before this autobiography this was fictionalized in "Empire of the Sun". Second part of the book starts with young Ballard moving to England from where the rest of his life will be lived. Both parts are equally fascinating though they highlight different aspects of life and may not be equally interesting to readers who are looking for literary influences, gossip or musings about literature in general. Both parts show that Ballard is a skillful writer.
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